During this year's bowl season we are seeing the importance of having a clutch field goal kicker. Teams like Georgia, Stanford, and Virginia Tech have had games decided because of their inability to kick field goals in the clutch.
When I was at Tennessee I discovered the importance of mental training and the correlation it had to my success when I was kicking under pressure. I like the old adage a kicker who "fails to prepare will be prepared to fail".
You notice it in golf all the time when a young golfer is unable to close the deal in a major tournament. There is a difference between performing by yourself and doing it in front of thousands of people. Sometimes it takes that golfer a few years to be mentally tough enough to win a major tournament. It is the same in kicking.
I learned about kicking under pressure right away at the University of Tennessee. I was the starting kicker as a redshirt freshman and my first road game was at The Swamp against Florida in 2003. I was able to hit a 51 yard field goal in the third quarter and we went on to upset the Gators. For people who were casual fans that kick probably looked relatively routine, but it was actually a kick that was a year in the making.
Throughout my true freshman year at Tennessee I was watching our senior kicker Alex Walls do the kicking as I took a redshirt. I took that opportunity to meet with Sport Psychologist Dr. Craig Wrisberg over at the University of Tennessee. I was crafting my skills at performing under pressure and focusing on what it would be like to kick in front of 100,000 people.
We met once a week for a year to help me prepare for kicking in the SEC. Dr. Wrisberg was a sane voice in a sea of insane people. Coaches, players, and fans rarely understand what it is like to be a kicker. Dr. Wrisberg with give me mental techniques to focus on being in the moment and using my adrenaline and nerves to my advantage.
I know that I didn't have the best technique of all the kickers in the SEC, but I was strong with my mental game. Sport Psychology is not for just "crazy kickers". I played basketball, soccer, and other sports growing up and just happened to have a unique talent to kick. I came to Tennessee as an 18 year old kid and had no idea what I was getting himself into in being a field goal kicker in the SEC. Sport Psychology gave me the tools and structure to have success.
It takes preparation to be a successful field goal kicker and you have to enjoy the pressure. People use to say to me "I could never do what you do, it is just way too much pressure". Those people are absolutely right...without mental training they never could have done what I did or at least not consistently! You have to enjoy being under pressure. I was almost an adrenaline junky by the end of my career. I loved moments of pressure so that I could test my mental toughness.
The reason we are seeing so much trouble with kickers performing under pressure is because they have ignored the mental side of the kicking game. I train kickers privately across the state of Tennessee and I see it all the time. A kicker will look great until you put them on film or you have them compete against someone else of similar talent.
Pressure makes us better or worse and it takes mental preparation to rise to the occasion. So as you watch the rest of the games this bowl season and the NFL playoffs, start to pay attention to the kickers. Notice the difference in poise of an NFL kicker compared to a college kicker. That NFL kicker has been polishing his mental game for years.
There is very little difference in talent between an NFL kicker and the 20 free agent kickers that don't have an NFL job. The difference between the two is that the NFL kicker has already proven he can do it in an NFL setting under pressure. A player that can kick under pressure is worth his weight in gold and thats why you see kickers that Morten Anderson, Gary Anderson, and John Kasey play well into their forties!
In closing, if you want to be a successful kicker you have to be perfecting your mental game and if you want to win a championship you have find a kicker that can kick in the clutch!